Big Data has been a huge buzzword for some years now, and it’s typically seen as something only available for the big corporates.
But with the proliferation of cloud technology, it’s now possible for small businesses to also benefit.
If you’re not familiar with big data, it’s a term that has many definitions. For most it means a huge data set that requires tools to analyse, but my favourite definition is from Gil Press:
“A new attitude by businesses, non-profits, government agencies, and individuals, that combining data from multiple sources could lead to better decisions.”
Though it’s enterprise level companies who are most likely to use Big Data, it’s actually small businesses who can benefit the most from big data.
Small businesses tend to be much more agile, in that they’re able to make decisions and act on them much quicker. Ideas don’t need to run up a huge chain to the execs before they get signed off, you can execute them straight away.
Thanks to the size, it’s also easier to get everyone on board with big data. There’s no need for many departments to undergo training, and you can actually get your team involved in the decision making.
How can Big Data benefit small businesses?
According to SMB Group’s 2012 Routes to Market Study, SMBs that have deployed business intelligence and analytics solutions are 51% more likely than their peers to expect revenues to rise.
Using big data, when done properly, only helps your business to thrive, and it’s all thanks to giving you a better overview of what’s going on.
From your customers to marketing strategies, processes and more, data can help you to see what works and what doesn’t.
The best example of this, despite being of a corporate company, is Netflix’s use of data to create the series House of Cards. Netflix’s data showed that customers who like David Fincher also liked Kevin Spacey. These customers also liked shows like the original British House of Cards.
With that data in hand, they bet on a new series combining all three being a hit. And they were right.
Of course, Netflix used a lot of cash, huge teams and enterprise tools to reach those conclusions, so you might be wondering how you can achieve similar results with a smaller budget and team.
That’s exactly what I’ll show you today.
How big data can be simple, cheap and productive
1. Cheap yet Effective Tools You don’t need expensive enterprise tools to get access to your Big Data. In fact, you’ve already got access to it.
The most basic and cheapest (it’s free) tool you can use is one that you’re probably already using: Google Analytics.
While you might not immediately consider it Big Data, it’s a tool that’s collecting a lot of information about your website and your customers. Information that you can use to make better business decisions.
Even for a small website, Google Analytics will help you gather information about the demographics of your customers, what they’re looking for and more.
Of course with so much information available, you might immediately feel a little overwhelmed.
That’s where Google Sheets can help.
Using Google Sheets and the Google Analytics Add-on, you can actually automate reports showing only the metrics that you need and hiding all the extra clutter.
You’ll be using a huge number of tools to manage your business, (on average it’s about 11 – 16), all of which will be creating data that you can use.
The great thing about using Google Sheets is that it’s really simple to automate the collection of data from all of your tools.
Zapier has an integration with Google Sheets that you can use to connect to other tools and pull key metrics onto your report.
Google Sheets also has a nifty feature that allows you to import information from an RSS feed to your spreadsheet. Zapier has a great guide on how you can use this in a CRM spreadsheet but the principle of a report is the same.
Of course, if that still feels like a little too much effort for you – there are dashboards out there that can do all of this for you! 2. Proper Tracking This step is a short one but it’s an essential step.
Once you know what tools you need to use, it’s time to make sure you have everything set up correctly. There’s one thing that’s going to make big data unproductive for you, and that’s incorrect data.
Having the wrong data could lead to a decision that could potentially ruin your business.
Check and double check that you’ve implemented your tools correctly. Even if your data is showing good results, be skeptical until you know it’s right. Sometimes when it’s too good to be true, it is. 3. Make sure it’s user-friendly and accessible Being a small business means you can get the whole team involved in the decision-making process. That’s one of the cool things about big data. It breaks down silos, and allows everyone to share the data, and, more importantly, the expertise they have in their role.
Using Google Sheets is one of the simplest ways you can make big data user-friendly and accessible.
Share the sheet with your team and everyone has access to the same data whenever they need it. They may even have data available to them that was previously only available to another department.
Presenting it without all the clutter of unnecessary information also makes it easier to cut through to the stuff that matters. 4. Clear KPIs When setting up your reporting, whether you use Google Sheets or not, it’s essential that you don’t include all the metrics, otherwise, you might as well go back to manually creating your reports.
Knowing which KPIs to track isn’t difficult. It all comes down to one question:
Does this metric affect my business’ revenue?
If a metric doesn’t affect your revenue, don’t include it. The point of using Big Data is to make your business more successful through the use of data.
The number of Twitter followers you have is unlikely to grow your revenue. Your conversion rate however, is.
This question is incredibly useful for whatever you’re doing in your business. It reminds you to focus on keeping your business profitable, and avoiding strategies that are unhelpful.
If you’re still confused about how to identify KPIs, check out Avinash Kaushik’s guide to Web Analytics 101. 5. Use It! Finally, what’s the point in gathering all this useful data if you’re not using it properly? Big Data offers your business the chance to become proactive rather than reactive.
One of Netflix’s key philosophies for using data is “The longer you take to find the data, the less valuable it becomes.”
A monthly report, therefore, isn’t going to cut it. Even if most businesses do read them (and don’t just forget about them in their inbox), they’re reacting to something that’s already happened weeks ago.
Use your spreadsheet to keep a regular check on your KPIs. Here at neatly, we’ve identified one key metric that we check every morning, the number of users. This means that the growth of our user numbers is so ingrained in us, we have an idea of what that number should be every time we look.
If this number suddenly changes we can be proactive and investigate why it’s changed and what we need to do to get back on track. This means we can still reach our targets at the end of the month, rather than waiting for the monthly report and realizing we failed.
There’s no reason for small businesses to not use Big Data.
You don’t need expensive, complex tools to get business intelligence. You’ve already got a wealth of information available to you, it’s just about creating a process and using readily available tools to get it.
Here’s a quick recap of what to do:
- Get started by using Google Sheets or one of the many cheap dashboard tools available online as the centre of your data hub. Connect all your sources of data.
- Test, test, test to make sure your data is correct.
- Make it user-friendly by stripping out the unnecessary metrics and presenting it in a visually appealing format.
- Identify the relevant KPIs that will help your business grow and make sure everyone is aware of them.
- Use your data more regularly to be proactive and not reactive.